Amongst the many arts and cultural organisations giving their backing was Shrublands Community Centre in Gorleston. Managing director Andy Stubbings said it would be “transformative”, “provide an important milestone for our community” and “that coming together in this way to put on events and provide associated facilities can lift spirits and provide a deeper sense of wellbeing in tough times”.
Work is now under way to ensure the City of Culture bid will involve as many people as possible from local communities across both council areas to enable a grass roots/bottom upwards approach. It will aspire to challenge issues of low social mobility and address health inequalities in the area, as well as offer unique opportunities to artists and other participants, reaching out to audiences from all backgrounds to give as full a representation as possible for all identities and voices and providing a legacy for the years ahead.
The decision on whether the bid has made it onto the longlist will be announced in early September 2021, with the UK City of Culture 2025 winner being announced in May next year. It is the first-time groups of towns and places have been able to join together and apply for the title, and the bids for 2025 will be assessed by an independent advisory panel chaired by Sir Phil Redmond.
The longlisting of Great Yarmouth and East Suffolk’s bid will unlock funding of up to £40,000 to develop the application further, awarded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which is running the competitive process. The councils have committed to investing this sum in small grants to local cultural and community groups to enable them to work on their creative ideas and plans for the UK City of Culture programme which would run for a year from mid-2025 to mid-2026.
Over 150 stakeholder organisations have already expressed interest in being involved, with letters of support received from the area’s four MPs, the New Anglia LEP, Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils, Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies, the Norfolk & Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group, the UEA and the University of Suffolk, Norfolk Community Foundation, Community Action Suffolk and the Norfolk and Suffolk Chambers of Commerce, as well as many other key partners in environment, education, research, business, health and disability sectors.
Strong support has come from a wide range of artistic and cultural organisations such as The Hippodrome and St George’s in Great Yarmouth, Gorleston’s Pavilion Theatre, Lowestoft Theatres, DanceEast, The Cut arts centre at Halesworth, Britten Pears Arts, Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Suffolk Artlink, Waveney Blyth Arts, Screen Suffolk and many, many more.
Arts Council England, Preservation Trust and Heritage Action Zones, Creative People and Places (Freshly Greated), Cultural Education Partnerships (Lowestoft Rising and Enjoy), and the Norfolk Museums Service and libraries will be at the heart of the bid; while the councils have also engaged with the Broads Authority and the Wildlife Trusts and with marine partners at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in Lowestoft.
Leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, Cllr Carl Smith said: “We’re very heartened by the hugely positive and enthusiastic response we have received for our City of Culture bid in partnership with our colleagues at East Suffolk Council, and we give our sincere thanks to everyone who has given us support in this exciting endeavour.
“It’s an important part of our bid that the extensive programme of events and projects we devise not only reaches as many different parts of our communities and beyond as is possible, but also that we take everyone with us on this journey and they feel fully engaged, involved in and supported by it. There is a lot of hard work ahead of us now but, with such solid backing, we are determined to do all we can to make the very best case to bring this incredible opportunity to our coastline.”
Cllr Steve Gallant, Leader of East Suffolk Council said: “We want our communities to be completely involved and engaged with our ambitious plans to become City of Culture 2025 and have been delighted to receive so much support following the announcement of our intention to bid earlier this month. This is an incredible opportunity for both districts and along with our colleagues at Great Yarmouth, we will now be putting our combined efforts into ensuring as many people as possible are involved in the bid, which will aim to address local challenges and provide a wealth of unique opportunities.”
Supportive comments for the bid:
- Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk Peter Wilson MBE, former Chair of Great Yarmouth’s SeaChange Arts (now Out There Arts) and also of the town’s St George’s Trust, said the partnerships involved in bringing those two projects to success had convinced him “that the will and the heart exist in Yarmouth to raise aspirations, broaden horizons, and leave a lasting legacy of positivity”. “The commitment that a bid for the City of Culture represents is immense. I have no doubt that Great Yarmouth and East Suffolk have that commitment, and that the whole region would benefit enormously.”
- Professor Fiona Lettice, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) at the University of East Anglia, said the UEA was “delighted to support the exciting bid”, and has pledged it will work with the bid team to help provide “an effective framework for social, economic and environmental value”, including an evaluation programme for the project, from bid to delivery and legacy.
- Phil Aves, change manager at Lowestoft Rising, creators of the Lowestoft Cultural Education Partnership which works with Enjoy Great Yarmouth to engage with schools and children, said: “We know from our work that young people love to be involved in arts and culture and to have this opportunity in their own towns would be amazing.” He added that “cultural activity can bring such joy and release to those suffering with mental health concerns and this status and the activity that comes with it will help so many people cope better.”
- Gorleston Pavilion Theatre trustee Alex Youngs said: “One of the strengths of Great Yarmouth and East Suffolk is the way we’ve all worked in partnership to make big changes and successes over recent years. There are so many exciting things happening here now that we’re sure the bid will be hugely exciting.”
- Stephen Javes, Chair of the Lowestoft Place Board, a group of business and community leaders who are helping East Suffolk Council shape and deliver regeneration projects in the town, said: “Cultural spaces and programming have a key role to play in addressing some of Lowestoft’s most significant issues whilst also promoting the place as a visitor destination.”
- Director of Jay UK Ltd, Peter Jay, whose family owns four iconic buildings on the Great Yarmouth seafront including the 1903 Hippodrome Circus, gave the company’s wholehearted support and said: “It is fantastic to see both councils working in partnership striving to provide huge additional gains to the cultural and diverse offer that we currently have.”
- Voluntary Norfolk, the county’s leading charity for volunteer recruitment, services and support, has worked in partnership with Great Yarmouth and East Suffolk on projects such as Neighbourhoods That Work and recently on the arts-based community development project Freshly Greated. Chief executive Alan Hopley said: “From our experience and knowledge of working in Great Yarmouth, and in particular the more deprived wards, we know how cultural events can have a transformative effect on the quality of life and future aspirations of local people, as well as providing a significant economic boost for local businesses.”
- Director and artist Alexander Costello from the Project 303 in Lowestoft, a not-for-profit contemporary art gallery run for the community, said: “As a young arts organisation, 303 Projects has been very impressed by the ambition and commitment that the City of Culture represents, and we are excited to be establishing our arts and cultural offer at a time when the arts, culture and heritage are central to local government plans to improve, regenerate and enhance Lowestoft as a welcome seaside destination to live and visit.”
- Vattenfall - one of Europe's leading energy companies, which operates the Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farms. Dr Catrin Ellis Jones, head of Stakeholder and Community Engagement, said: “The City of Culture bid is a fitting ambition for an area with as much potential as Great Yarmouth and East Suffolk. Successfully bringing that status here will have a huge immediate benefit for people and businesses, and leave a long-lasting legacy. We are sure it can be a big part of the transformation of these three closely linked towns and the wellbeing and quality of life of residents.”
- Daniel Brine, artistic director and chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, said: “UK City of Culture is an extraordinary opportunity for the communities of Great Yarmouth and East Suffolk to come together and celebrate their heritage, place in the world and aspirations for the future. I can’t imagine a community in the UK which has worked harder to ensure culture is integral to community cohesion, health and wellbeing, economic recovery and the preservation of our places of built and natural beauty. This is a community which should be celebrated at the heart of cultural life in the UK.”
On social media, local residents and organisations described the bid as 'ambitious and exciting', ‘such exciting news for our area’, 'fantastic news' and 'this wonderful place is getting the recognition it deserves'.